Can Apple Surprise Us Anymore?

That iPhone 5 up there isn't an iPhone 5. It's a flawless computer image we had months before we ever saw the real thing, made possible by the fact that we knew exactly what it was going to look like. Exactly. Everyone did.

We used to look forward to iPhone day like Christmas morning, or some sort of decadent electric Bat Mitzvah party. It was shrouded in secrecy. Apple secrets. "One more thing." Now, we get it all from China months in advance. Are Apple's exciting days over?

Let's get one thing clear: Apple still makes exciting things. The iPhone 5 is an incredible phone, and one that's genuinely exciting to own. There's nothing boring about the phone itself. But we knew what it was going to look like in May. May! We had photos of the iPhone 5 a quarter of a year in advance of it even being announced. So when it was announced, there was nothing to reveal — anyone who really cared had already seen it.

And for Apple, even back when people cared about the iPod in large groups, the reveal was huge. Steve Jobs wasn't just a brilliant computer tyrant — he was the greatest corporate showman of our time. He made consumer electronics something people clapped loudly about, and watched local news reports on, and stood in line for. He could drum up hype and sweaty anticipation like none other, in part because the things Apple sells are terrific, but largely because they are awesome-looking, and us human apes love being shown cool-looking things that we weren't expecting. Fireworks. The Oscars. The new iPhone. We love being surprised, and we love a company that can consistently surprise us. Apple had a monopoly on this kind of super-hype, because it kept projects locked down tighter than secret Santa at the Pentagon. The place was a vortex of mystery — until Steve trotted it out on stage and we squealed.

A video still of a leaked iPhone 5 case obtained months in advance.

Now China does it. Whoever the person or people behind these consistently perfect leaks might be, they're on their A-game, like some sort of Shenzhen Robin Hood. Instead of the big show, we get the steady flow of grainy, watermarked Apple things from bad angles, in harsh lighting, and covered in plastic wrap. It's the difference between seeing a movie and buying a bootleg DVD from some guy behind a CVS, but the effect is profound: Apple can't surprise us anymore, and its stellar products yield an "oh, cool, here it is" response instead of an orgiastic communal jaw-drop. It happened with the iPhone 5.

A CG render we posted in June, a perfect fake long before anyone saw the real thing.

And now it's happening with the iPad Mini — Apple's other megahype-spurring thing. When those two gadgets wind up on our screens before Apple makes it official, the company loses power over us.

And frankly, good. We've been fetishizsng iThings for almost a decade now, far beyond the attention they command as top-tier devices. Apple deserves admiration and money because it makes wonderful things. But it doesn't deserve to hold people in such thrall over what are still just products. We should be better than drooling at Apple's feet as it waves a shrouded steak over us. It might also bring our expectations down from their stratospheric orbit, whereby anything less than an iPhone 6 made of crystal and sporting omnidirectional laser breasts will satisfy and impress.

When we start treating things like things, we can appreciate them as things, rather than messianic revelations. Apple might lose its hush-hush-kaboom cult of secrecy, but losing the power to shock and awe might be good for everyone. Besides, we're going to buy the damn phone anyway.


Comments

    Speak for yourself re buying the damn phone anyway :)

    As a fan of the iPhone. The other thing is, is that it isn't technically anything new.

    Since the iPhone 3G (or midway through their release cycle where they released copy and paste) and whatever the equivalent android phone was, not a lot has really changed. Everyone has gotten faster and nicer screens, androids have gotten bigger and iPhones have gotten thinner.

    They're currently like laptops where it's really hard to make a new exciting feature, it's just down to build quality and speed.

    To be fair there is NFC and induction charging but NFC isn't really of use yet and personally I'd want the induction chargers to slim down a bit before I'd want one but what else do you want in a phone.

    Other than the physical shape and inevitable spec jumps there isn't a lot more to surprise us with.

    I have to disagree with you one a number of points.
    1. "Apple still makes exciting things." Apple's first iphone and ipad were "exciting". What's followed has been incremental improvement - nice but hardly exciting.
    2. The ipad mini (if it actually ever becomes a real product) is playing catch up with the Nexus and other decent 7 inch tablets currently available. So there can bo no surprises there.
    3. No, I'm not going to ever buy another Apple product.

      If you would *never* buy anything from any particular manufacturer: so thats for all time, no matter what happens, then your opinions become pretty irrelevant.

    What about a screen that when you put a charge through it the glass goes opaque or something to lower sun glare, like that frosted glass stuff. Something like that would be an awesome new feature.

    Patent Pending ; )

      You won't be able to see the screen then if you make the glass opaque, that is just ridiculous. The technology already exists for windows which is a logical alternative to curtains/blinds but having that on a phone screen is just as logical as putting tint on your screen.
      Either you are crazy or I may have interpreted your idea incorrectly.

      Opaque, so like you can't see it yeah...

      I really don't think you thought this one through.

      And then battery goes FLAAAT. Maybe when battery tech have gone a bit further.

    I think this article misses a very important point. Apple makes consumer products that sell in the millions. Do you really think that every person who purchased an iPhone 5 reads Gizmodo or similar sites? I'd say the majority of users didn't know anything about the 5 before the announcement.

    Apple can't surprise US because we seek out spoilers. Gizmodo is looking for those leaks from China so they can call it an "Exclusive" and get a boost in ad revenue.

    This article is like a movie spoiler website asking if Hollywood can surprise us anymore.

    Apple can surprise us, we just have to stop ruining the surprise ourselves. I'll stick with spoilers because I don't need to be surprised.

      Or more like... its hard to raise a clone army without the republic (JC) knowing about it. Theyre not making small batches of hardware - theyre making millions of units at a time sprawled across multiple distributors and partners. Whats stopping any of the employees in one of those companies from tipping people off for a quick buck? (And forget NDAs/whatever- they dont seem to work well enough at the production line floor)

      @mdolley "Apple can't surprise US because we seek out spoilers."
      This is a very good point.
      There are things we miss everyday, things that we'd never notice unless we really wanted to find them. What I am trying to say is that it's only natural for a bunch of us geeks to find leaks and spoilers and to share them with one another. For those who don't find interest in sneak peeks of tech products, chances are they won't find them.

      If we are interested in something, we find out everything about it. If we aren't, then we don't look any further. It's just common sense.

    There's still plenty of room for innovation. Just off the top of my head - projector screen with built-in kinect like device that will make your phone a mobile laptop, foldable touchscreen, holograms. All of this is within-reach technology over the next decade and I am sure the worlds richest company would be able to pull it off. Hell, just look at those concept-videos that Nokia released a couple years ago, all of those things are close to doable.
    That said, Apple has a tiny R&D department and I don't think they really care.

      'Tiny'? You know theyre the one that rejuvenated the phone industry and tablet industry right? Its not the size - the the quality and focus. And just because you can doesnt mean you should. "Because its cool and new" is not a good excuse - it has to make sense and not interfere with the core selling point.
      Sure you can have projector screens on your phone.. but then itll cost you around 2-3K$ to own one and battery power would be abysmally low. God forbid you need a replacement unit. (This applies to everyone - not just Apple).
      And then people complain when they go in and update a 10 year old plug?

    I'd say people were caught off guard with the 4S given how widespread it was rumoured Apple was moving to a tear drop design. Many also expected that device to be the iPhone 5. Maybe it was a bit of a surprise for the wrong reasons however.

    Sure, the 5 this year was pretty unsurprising, but I don't think all their releases have been so well documented before hand. While maybe not a mystery to the extent this article is aiming for, even with the 5 there seemed to be inconsistent rumours around things such as the inclusion of NFC and the like.

    All I care about now is omnidirectional laser breasts with motion-sensing bounce-physics and haptic feedback.

    What I'd like to see happen is Apple make official announcements about their future products.. confirm specs, confirm concepts, confirm plans, estimate planned pricing and so on..

    I don't want to see it before it is released though.. that takes all the wonder and amazement out of it and I think that in itself is a shame. If Apple started to release more details about its plans the good thing is that these leaks might become less important and the focus will go away from them; the bad however is that their competitors will know what they are doing and will copy them faster.

      Gives em more leeway when it comes to spec and features. If it can be helped they will hold off on it.

      Thats probably not far off what happened anyway. iOS which had most of the operational improvements was announced months beforehand, and then the phone itself got announced something like 10 days before it shipped to customers.

      I don't think giving people half the facts would deter them from wanting to get the other half of the story but.

    Actually, I think we were surprised by the iPod Nano 7G. The leaks suggested it would be like the 6G version, but with a camera. The actual released device was longer, had a home button added to the front, the clip removed and no camera.

    The reincarnation of Apple was so successful because they innovated ahead of the pack. Now they have reached a point at which so much is invested in this machine that it needs to keep itself fed. The pressure they feel now seem to be to defend this market position against rivals. The court action was the thing that really signalled it for me. It showed that Apple is not the lithe upstart any more. It is heavy with the weight of expectation and heavy with the weight of managing its much expanded empire. Innovation has been replaced by incremental improvements.

    The focus of today is on the iphone and the ipad - if I'm not mistaken, what made Apple great was the taking of established good ideas and turning them into awesome products. Yes, there isn't much more they can do with the phone and tablet but what's next? What was done badly 3-5 years ago that would be awesome today - that's the next thing Apple is going to bring out - if, and only if they can innovate without Steve.

    "We used to look forward to iPhone day like Christmas morning, or some sort of decadent electric Bat Mitzvah party. " Who is "we"? Most people I know and respect with technical knowledge, ability and general know-how steered clear from Apple for its over zealous margins, lack of freedom for arbitrary reasons to hardware on a software level, general hardware policies (No removable batteries, expensive "accessories" etc) and other restrictions. My view is simple, I own a tool, I wish to use it how I deem - not how a person nor company or whomsoever deems that tool shall be expressed to me. It's my tool, I paid for it. I shall use it as I deem. Not how Apple specifies I may use it. This is not a permissive deliberation; I do not, and those whom I value and associate with re: technical issues *generally* (little is absolute) do not agree to being "permitted" to do things that I/we view as our rights.

    "There’s nothing boring about the phone itself." - Right.... beside that fact that on every technical aspect it's behind the competition, from RAM to CPU (debatable - somewhat, though arguably in raw FLOPS or any other measure it would be behind many existing ARM chips in new and upcoming phones) to screen (Yes, high pixel density... however it's far smaller and the margin to me is not that important - it's not a cinematic experience; it's a phone - let's remember that. <300 PPI is a very reasonable margin, 326 vs 306 is pretty much superfluous in my opinion and experience, more space to work with is of greater value then higher pixel density, hands down.) No expandable memory... why? Profits. The only company in the industry to use its particular port when millions of other devices use micro and mini usb... why? Accessory sales and profits.

    No NFC... why? Errrrrr..... margins. Might be in the next one. Maybe. It's a tiny chip that would literally have costed very little in the bulk amounts Apple produces and maybe... maybe a fraction more on the development costs of the iPhone 5 to great benefit of its users, app developers and client base. But, profit is king.

    Battery, which is... non removable... why? Well you couldn't replace it yourself that would.... affect the bottom line! Further, this battery has far worse standby time then many competitors 225 hours v 790 hours (SGS 3) and marginally worse talk time 8 hours v 11.4 (SGS 3). And that's before you even get into all the options - hardware and software - that it's competitors inadvertently and overtly offer, including apps (with root of course) that specific what to drop the CPU speed to when the screen is off, what band to change to, to stop data or sync etc {saving me hours of battery life in my personal experience with no noticeable loss in performance etc})

    The only "real" point of contention is design. One that has been changed practically nil on a physical sense. Personally, I don't rate iPhone's design that highly. I never have. I am really enjoying what Nokia is doing with it's Lumia line in terms of crisp lines and rounded edges and... colour! Apple seems very very same old to me.

    Everything about this phone bores me. The only draw-card is Apple's extensive marketplace. One which Android is slowly reaching - and at current rates of growth, will surpass both quantitatively and - again opinion - qualitatively also.

    "When we start treating things like things, we can appreciate them as things, rather than messianic revelations" Very true. Also when tech-floggers/bloggers stop over hyping what is essentially circuitry in a box made of metals, rare earth's and plastics in pretty despicable conditions in South East Asia as "Apple ... making exciting things" as opposed to the reality of Apple outsourcing giant quantities of manufactured goods to many companies in China and South East Asia. They don't make anything. They design and outsource. Foxconn deserves as much praise as you would give Apple, really. I think your statement(s) in this post are very contradictory - on one hand you praise Apple and what it's made - yet you end saying "things are but things" but.... "I buy them anyway" it makes you look like a consumer who has some cognitive ability and awareness - but barely enough to render them aware of their need for consumption.

    "Besides, we’re going to buy the damn phone anyway." - No. This is the point of competition and why Apple has been fighting so strenuously against Samsung et al in its recent legal battles - market share is declining - not increasing at least in the United States, Korea and the United Kingdom.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now